Tuesday 31 March 2020

Music v. Corona: Julian Perkins of Sounds Baroque

Julian Perkins (Photo: Benjamin Harte)
Julian Perkins (Photo: Benjamin Harte)
Like many musicians, Julian Perkins from Sounds Baroque is finding creative ways to cope with the necessary isolation. He is introducing a regular Bach at 9 recital series, starting at 9.00pm (UK-time) every day except Mondays and featuring Perkins playing a Bach prelude and fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier on the clavichord, reputedly Bach's favourite keyboard instrument.

And from Friday 3 April 2020, there will also be Duets at 10, at 10pm (UK time) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins will introduce and perform keyboard duets by composers including J. C. Bach, Clementi, Mozart, Weber and Dodgson.

Full details from the Sounds Baroque YouTube channel.

Those who wish to support artists whose income has been decimated, can click on the link on the top right of the channel page, and proceeds will be divided equally between the charity Help Musicians and each performer.

Comfortably Classical at Home: the City of London Sinfonia

Katherine Spencer (Photo Suzi Corker)
Katherine Spencer (Photo Suzi Corker)
The musicians of the City of London Sinfonia's response to self-isolation has been to set up a regular streamed event, Comfortably Classical at Home on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11.30am when one of the musicians hosts a short concert live from their homes − music for anyone and everyone, from young children to older adults. 

These are relaxed, casual events and at the first one on 26 March, Katherine (Principal Clarinet) performed Stravinsky in the sunshine in her garden, introducing listeners not only to the chalumeau, a predecessor of the clarinet, but also her chickens.

Today's episode (Tuesday 31 March) is Joely Koos, Co-Principal Cello, with Alexandra Wood, Leader and Creative Director, and Daniel Bates, Principal Oboe, scheduled for next week.

The concerts are broadcast live on the orchestra's Facebook page where you can catch them afterwards too

Sullivan at his peak, but without Gilbert: Haddon Hall gets its first professional recording

Sullivan Haddon Hall, Ford Mr Jericho, Cellier Captain Billy; Ed Lyon, Henry Waddington, Adrian Thompson, Ben McAteer, Donald Maxwell, Sarah Tynan, Fiona Kimm, Angela Simkin, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews; Dutton Epoch
Sullivan Haddon Hall, Ford Mr Jericho, Cellier Captain Billy; Ed Lyon, Henry Waddington, Adrian Thompson, Ben McAteer, Donald Maxwell, Sarah Tynan, Fiona Kimm, Angela Simkin, BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra, John Andrews; Dutton Epoch
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 March 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Sullivan's first major operetta without Gilbert receives its first professional recording in a terrific performance which shows the work has a lot to enjoy

After the production of The Gondoliers in 1889, the relationship between Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir W. S. Gilbert fractured, apparently irrevocably. There had been rocky patches before, and the remarkably success of Alfred Cellier's Dorothy in 1888 and 1889 caused problems, as did Sullivan's preference for moving towards more serious subjects. Gilbert would give Sullivan The Yeomen of the Guard, the pair's most serious operetta, but would not go as far as out and out serious opera. Outside of his relationship with Gilbert, Sullivan had success with his oratorio The Golden Legend (1886) and his opera Ivanhoe (1891, which had remarkable success but no obvious successor).

Logic would have said that it was perfectly possible for Sullivan to write comic operas with Gilbert and more serious ones with others, but Gilbert's quarrel with impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte over the finances of the Savoy Operas led to a final break which prevented further Gilbert and Sullivan operas (the two would eventually get together again for two more, Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke, but the magic was gone).

So in 1892, D'Oyly Carte turned to the playwright Sydney Grundy who had already written the libretto for Edward Solomon's 1882 comic opera The Vicar of Bray (which had a successful revival at the Savoy Theatre in 1892). Grundy and Sullivan wrote Haddon Hall, an historical romance rather than comic opera, which seems to have been an attempt to continue the vein of The Yeomen of the Guard.

Haddon Hall had a moderately successful premiere run at the Savoy Theatre, and remained popular with amateurs well into the 1920s. The work was one of a number, I think, whose performing materials were disposed of by publishers during the post-War period which meant that any modern revival had to start with the creation of new performing materials. Sydney Grundy's libretto evidently leaves something to be desired, and whether the work would find a home on the modern stage is an interesting question. But the music is undoubtedly Sullivan at his prime.

So we must be grateful for this new recording of Sullivan and Grundy's Haddon Hall on Dutton Epoch, with John Andrews conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Singers, with Ed Lyon as John Manners, Henry Waddington as Sir George Vernon, Adrian Thompson as Oswald, Ben McAteer as Rupert Vernon, Donald Maxwell as McCrankie, Sarah Tynan as Dorothy Vernon, Fiona Kimm as Lady Vernon and Angela Simkin as Dorcas. The piece is accompanied by two shorter contemporary works, Ernest Ford's Mr Jericho from 1893 and Francois Cellier's Captain Billy from 1891.

Grundy's libretto for Haddon Hall takes an historical event from the history of the Manners and Vernon families of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, when heiress Dorothy Vernon eloped with John Manners, but moved it from 16th century to the 17th so that the differences between the Vernons and the Manners are also ones of politics, the difference between Royalists and Parliamentary supporters. Keen eyed opera lovers will also spot links to Donizetti's opera Lucia di Lammermoor, the heroine forced to marry a man chosen by her father/brother but in love with her father's/brother's enemy (Donizetti's opera debuted in 1835 and was first performed in London in 1838 and was an operatic staple).  And Sullivan's operatic style does, in some ways, hark back to this type of Italian opera as much as the operas of Jacques Offenbach, which are in some ways the closest model.

Sullivan: Haddon Hall - Act One Finale from the 1892 premiere
Sullivan: Haddon Hall - Act One Finale from the 1892 premiere

Monday 30 March 2020

Academy of Ancient Music's digital concert series

Handel's Heroines - Mary Bevan, Jennifer France, Laurence Cummings, Academy of Ancient Music
Handel's Heroines - Mary Bevan, Jennifer France, Laurence Cummings, Academy of Ancient Music
For the duration of the current crisis, the Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) has launched its new digital offering Streaming Sunday Series, with HD videos of recent concerts available free on-line. The concerts are streamed at 3pm on Sundays and are available on AAM's YouTube channel

Released so far has been Handel's Heroines with sopranos Mary Bevan and Jennifer France, and the AAM directed by Laurence Cummings in Handel, recorded live at Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall on 12 March 2020 (particularly for those who had hoped to see the programme at this year's London Handel Festival), and Sound the Trumpet with trumpeter David Blackadder and soprano Soraya Mafi, with the AAM directed by Chad Kelly in Purcell, Handel, Bach and Torelli, recorded live at Leeds Town Hall on 16 March 2020.

To come, we have the following to look forward to:

5 April 2020 - The Art of the Lute – with Thomas Dunford
The virtuosic Thomas Dunford joins the Academy of Ancient Music to showcase the lute, performing and directing works by Vivaldi, Bach and Buxtehude [see my review]
Recorded live at London’s Milton Court Concert Hall, 20 February 2020.

12 April 2020 - Handel’s Messiah – with soloists from VOCES8
The Academy of Ancient Music presents Handel's Messiah, joined by VOCES8, Apollo5 and the choir of the VOCES8 Foundation under the direction of Barnaby Smith.
Recorded live at the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge, 3 December 2019.

19 April 2020 - Bach & Haydn – with Viktoria Mullova and James Hall
Violinist Viktoria Mullova and countertenor James Hall join Richard Egarr the Academy of Ancient Music for a concert of Bach, Haydn and Grimani.
Recorded live at London’s Milton Court Concert Hall, 20 November 2019.

26 April 2020 - The Marriage of Figaro
Mozart's terrific comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro in a concert performance by Richard Egarr, the Academy of Ancient Music and cast including Roberto Lorenzi as Figaro, Ellie Laugharne as Susanna, Toby Girling as Count Almaviva, Simona Mihai as the Countess, Wallis Giunta as Cherubino, and Rowan Pierce as Barbarina [see my review of the stage performance at The Grange Festival]
Recorded live at London’s Barbican Hall, 4 July 2019, in partnership with The Grange Festival.

3 May 2020 - Beethoven and Witt – with Chen Reiss
Chen Reiss and the Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of Christoph Altstaedt present Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus overture, Symphony No. 4, and stunning concert arias for soprano, in a programme which also includes a symphony by Beethoven’s contemporary, Frederich Witt.
Recorded live at the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremberg, 4 March 2020.

Full details from AAM's YouTube channel.

A major addition to the symphonic repertoire: Erkki-Sven Tüür's 'Mythos', commissioned for the centenary of the Republic of Estonia

Erkki-Sven Tüür Symphony No. 9 Mythos', Sow the Wind...; Estonian Festival Orchestra, Paavo Järvi; ALPHA CLASSICS
Erkki-Sven Tüür Symphony No. 9 Mythos', Sow the Wind...; Estonian Festival Orchestra, Paavo Järvi; ALPHA CLASSICS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 March 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The centenary of the Republic of Estonia celebrated in a powerful new symphony

Erkki-Sven Tüür's Symphony No. 9 'Mythos' was commissioned by the  Government Office of Estonia to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia, and the work was premiered in Tallinn and Brussels in January 2018 by the Estonian Festival Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi.

On this new disc from Alpha Classics, Paavo Järvi conducts the Estonian Festival Orchestra in live recordings of Erkki-Sven Tüür's Symphony No. 9 'Mythos', Incantation of Tempest and Sow the Wind..., and the disc also celebrates the composer's 60th birthday.

Erkki-Sven Tüür is one of the major contemporary Estonian composers; he studied at Tallinn Conservatoire with Jaan Rääts, and with Lepo Sumera. For a period he was part of the progressive rock group, Spe. His output includes nine symphonies and an opera, Wallenberg.  We caught music by Tuur and by Raats at the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra's concert at the 2015 Vale of Glamorgan Festival [see my review].

Paavo Järvi founded the Estonian Festival Orchestra in 2011 as being resident at the Pärnu Music Festival, bringing together the best of Estonian talent alongside leading musicians from around the world. The orchestra became the first Estonian orchestra to perform at the BBC Proms in 2018 [see my review].

Paavo Järvi and the Estonian Festival Orchestra
Paavo Järvi and the Estonian Festival Orchestra

The symphony starts from 'primordial chaos', with Tüür gradually creating a sense of order through an emerging string figure which develops.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Oxford Lieder's Social DistanSong

This was supposed to be Oxford Lieder Festival's Spring Song weekend, and instead of live concerts the festival has developed Social DistanSong, an on-line festival. 

The first, impromptu, event took place yesterday and can still be viewed on-line; soprano Ailish Tynan and pianist James Baillieu, who were due to be launching the festival, have remotely recorded a Grieg song and a Libby Larsen encore. Tynan has put together a Spotify playlist of the songs that she was due to be performing, whilst Helen Abbott and Natasha Loges have recorded versions of their talks that were due to take place as part of the Poetry Making Song study day.

Like many arts organisations, the festival is fundraising so that it can support festival artists from the cancelled events by paying them.

Full details from the festival website.

Saturday 28 March 2020

All opera is community opera: I chat to director Thomas Guthrie

Jonathan Dove: The Monster in the Maze - Simon Rattle, Andrew Rees, Yvonne Howard - Barbican 2015 (Photo: Alastair Muir/PR )
Jonathan Dove: The Monster in the Maze - Simon Rattle, Andrew Rees, Yvonne Howard - Barbican 2015
(Photo: Alastair Muir/PR )
The director Thomas Guthrie's name is one that has cropped up over the years, often attached to performances in more unusual venues, not to mention his parallel career performing with Bjarte Eike's The Alehouse Boys. So I was delighted to meet up with him recently. Ostensibly our conversation was about his production of Jonathan Dove's The Monster in the Maze at the 2020 Grange Festival, though with the on-going emergency this has now been cancelled, alas. But we also talked about a wide variety of other things, from how he came to start directing, to his love of working with non-professionals, the fascination of early opera and of course playing the violin with The Alehouse Boys.

Jonathan Dove's The Monster in the Maze is labelled a community opera; it tells the story of Theseus and the Minotaur using professional soloists, an adult amateur choir, a young persons choir and a children's choir, with an orchestra made up of professionals and students.  Thomas has a long pedigree with the work, he directed the UK premiere of it in 2015 with Sir Simon Rattle conducting at the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, and there were also premieres (with different directors and performers) in Aix-en-Provence and in the Philharmonie in Berlin.

Thomas loves working with amateurs, and comments that for him 'all opera is community opera', and when directing amateurs he does not deal with a work significantly differently. And he feels that non-professional performers often get to the heart of what, for him, opera is about - a community telling a story. After all we all want music to move us, to tell a story, and he thinks it is sometimes easier to achieve this with amateurs as they have nothing to lose.

Thomas in fact started out as a singer, and when he was performing with Robert Hollingworth's group I Fagiolini, they sang at the opening of The Sage, Gateshead. The centre of the building, its heart, is a workshop space and anyone can come and use what is a really community space. For Thomas this is, in many ways, how all organisations should be, with the community at their centre.

Performances like the ones planned for The Monster in the Maze, would involve people who may never have performed before. Such participation helps the art form, helps keep it honest, after all opera and all music is about communication so involving the community should not just be about letting people in and giving them a taste.

Verdi: Aida - Liceu, Barcelona (Photo A Bofill)
Verdi: Aida - Liceu, Barcelona (Photo A Bofill)
Thomas's approach, working with amateur performers, does not differ wildly from his approach when using a fully professional cast, though he would usually have longer working with the amateurs. Thomas recently directed Verdi's Aida at the Liceu in Barcelona, and had just one day working in the studio with the chorus, but the way he worked moment to moment, was the same as with amateurs. The process is about discovering how to communicate the text, responding to the moment and then doing it again better.

Friday 27 March 2020

Arte Concert: Hope@Home, DG's Musical Moments

The Arte Concert website is collaborating with a number of artists to create new content, recorded as private concerts and streamed on-line. The violinist Daniel Hope has started a new Hope@Home series with regular chamber music performances with friends which is being broadcast at 6pm Berlin time every night. The first episode, last night, featured one of Bach's violin sonatas with Hope and pianist Christopher Israel.

And now Deutsche Gramophon has announced that it is building on earlier impromptu events at Berlin's Meistersaal to have regular Musical Moments, starting tonight (Friday 27 March 2020) at 7pm and Sunday 29 March at 4pm, and the episodes will be available on the Arte Concert website. the first four episodes will feature Berlin-based artists Andreas Ottensamer, Anna Prohaska, Avi Avital and Albrecht Mayer in recital performances with chamber music partners.

Full details from the Arte Concert website.

LPOnline – Connecting through music

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter was due to perform Beethoven's Harp Quartet with members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra this week, but with the cancellation of performances the four performers, Mutter, Pieter Schoeman (violin), Richard Waters (viola) and Kristina Blaumane (cello), came together digitally to perform part of the work, each recording their own part at home. The result was streamed on the LPO's website last night (Thursday 26 March 2020) as part of a new digital initiative whilst concert halls are dark.

Further newly created live or 'as live' music making from LPO orchestra members, LPO’s Foyle Future Firsts Development Programme and the LPO Junior Artists will be available on-line as part of the new programme. And to mirror the orchestra's planned concert programme, playlists of the repertoire that was to be performed at that time at the Royal Festival Hall will be streamed on the orchestra's website with introductions from conductors and LPO musicians, giving their personal take on the music.

The first of these is Saturday 28 March 2020, when Edward Gardner introduces the first concert of the series. To listen, you will need a Spotify or an IDAGIO account but both of these offer free versions.

Full details from the LPO website.

The Leipzig Circle: piano trios by Schumann, Gade & Mendelssohn from the Phoenix Piano Trio

The Leipzig Circle, piano trios by Robert Schumann, Niels Gade, Felix Mendelssohn; The Phoenix Piano Trio; STONE RECORDS
The Leipzig Circle, piano trios by Robert Schumann, Niels Gade, Felix Mendelssohn; The Phoenix Piano Trio; STONE RECORDS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Three composers linked by friendship are explored in this disc of piano trios from the 1840s and 1850s

On 31 October 1847, the Danish composer Niels Gade visited Clara and Robert Schumann in Dresden, with the news that Felix Mendelssohn was seriously ill in Leipzig. Mendelssohn died a few days later after a series of strokes; Schumann and Gade were pall-bearers.

This disc from the Phoenix Piano Trio (Sholto Kynoch, piano, Jonathan Stone, violin, Christian Elliott, cello) celebrates the links between the three composers who all came to know each other in Leipzig in the 1830s and 1840s. The links between Schumann and Mendelssohn are well known, but the presence of the Danish composer Niels Gade is more intriguing, yet when Mendelssohn died it was Gade who was seen as his natural successor in charge of the Gewandhaus Orchester. The Prussian/Danish war of Schleswig-Holstein put paid to that and Gade, returning to Denmark, would live until 1890, becoming a somewhat old-fashioned figure in the Wagnerian flush of the later 19th century.

The Leipzig Circle: Schumann, Gade & Mendelssohn from Stone Records features the Phoenix Piano Trio in Robert Schumann's Piano Trio No 2 in F major, Opus 80, Niels Gade's Noveletten, Op. 29 and Feliz Mendelsssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Opus 66.

Phoenix Piano Trio (Sholto Kynoch, Jonathan Stone, Christian Elliott) at the 2016Oxford Lieder Festival - photo Tom Herring
Phoenix Piano Trio (Sholto Kynoch, Jonathan Stone, Christian Elliott) at the 2016 Oxford Lieder Festival
photo Tom Herring
When Schumann wrote a mad rush of chamber music in 1842, he never quite finished a piano trio, and when he returned to chamber music in 1847 he wrote two, the Piano Trio in D minor Op. 63, and the Piano Trio in F major Op. 80. The first rather troubled, the second (the one on this disc) rather friendlier. Perhaps one stimulus was that his wife had already written her piano trio, her magnum opus, in 1846.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Music for Mental Health: pianist Yulia Chaplina

Like many artists, the pianist Yulia Chaplina has had a lot of concerts cancelled and her regular schedule has completely changed. She has started recording short online videos with some very light and positive (jazz and classical) music with the hope that the pieces can make you feel better. We all know that music is very therapeutic and provides a great boost for our mental health and Chaplina hopes her music will cheer you up!

You can sample a few of her videos on her web page, where there is a link to subscribe to her newsletter circulating the videos. And if you want some more 'hardcore' repertoire, then head over to her media page.

Pauline Oliveros' The World Wide Tuning Meditation: live, on-line on Saturday

Pauline Oliveros
Pauline Oliveros
The International Contemporary Ensemble and Music on the Rebound are presenting Pauline Oliveros' The World Wide Tuning Meditation live, on-line. 

On four Saturdays, 28 March, 4, 11 and 18 April 2020 at 5pm EDT, Ione and Claire Chase will lead a global performance of The Tuning Meditation by the late Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), a sonic gathering with a legacy of bringing communities together through meditative singing. Anyone from anywhere in the world is invited to join in via Zoom to sing together from their personal phone or computer.

No music experience is necessary.

Oliveros’ The Tuning Meditation consists of four steps:

1. Begin by taking a deep breath and letting it all the way out with air sound. Listen with your mind's ear for a tone.
2. On the next breath using any vowel sound, sing the tone that you have silently perceived on one comfortable breath. Listen to the whole field of sound the group is making.
3. Select a voice distant from you and tune as exactly as possible to the tone you are hearing from that voice. Listen again to the whole field of sound the group is making.
4. Contribute by singing a new tone that no one else is singing. Continue by listening then singing a tone of your own or tuning to the tone of another voice alternately.

Full information from Music on the Rebound website, where there is a RSVP link.

Always Playing: London Symphony Orchestra on-line

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra (Photo LSO)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra (Photo LSO)
The London Symphony Orchestra's on-line performances continue tonight (Thursday 26 March 2020) with Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting Weber's overture to Euryanthe, Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin and Piano (with Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout) and Schumann's Symphony No. 3, with Sir Simon Rattle conducting Janacek's Sinfonietta and Sibelius Symphony No. 5 on Sunday. 

Highlights further ahead include Valery Gergiev conducting Szymanowski's Symphony No. 1 and Violin Concerto (with Janine Jansen) on 2 April, Gianandrea Noseda conducting Verdi's Requiem with Erika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona, Francesco Meli and Michele Pertusi on 5 April, Sir Simon Rattle conducting Stravinsky ballets on 9 April, Semyon Bychkov conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 2 on 16 April, Simon Rattle conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 10 and Tippett's The Rose Lake on 23 April.

Full details from the London Symphony Orchestra's website, where you can find links to the orchestra's social media pages, as well as extensive digital programme notes for each of the concerts.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Voces8: Live from Home

VOces8 Foundation: Live From Home
The present situation is forcing artists and performers to be creative when it comes to creating on-line content. The VOCES8 Foundation has set up its #LiveFromHome initiative which will bring music and other content by Apollo5, VOCES8 and Paul Smith to your homes on a daily basis. They have put together a regular programme of performance videos, Interactive singing videos, workshops, and interviews which will be streamed live, and available via the archive. 

The current schedule is as follows:

Wed 25 March - 2pm GMT - Creative Music Making, Paul Smith
Thu 26 March - 2pm GMT - The Weekly Interview: Roxanna Panufnik
Fri 27 March - 2pm GMT - APOLLO5 video – The Dark Island
Sat 28 March - 2pm GMT - Intonation: A Multi-sensory Experience Blake Morgan
Sun 29 March - 2pm BST - Sheet Music Editing Jonathan Pacey

Full details from their Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages.

Big Play - a film released every three minutes making a day of virtual celebration of children's music-making:

West Midlands Music: the Big Play
On Friday (27 March 2020), schools across the West Midlands will be celebrating the Big Play, the virtual grand finale of Big Month of Music. Schools with whole class instrumental tuition have been working with their local Music Service to film One Minute of Music in their classrooms. 

Over 150 films have been received and, between 9am and 5pm on Friday 27 March a One Minute of Music film will be released every three minutes on the West Midlands Music Twitter and Facebook pages.

A film about the Big Play will also be shown during the day and Young Ambassadors will be boosting the Instagram channel and doing social media takeovers throughout the day. Big Month of Music is the first major project of West Midlands Music, a collective of all 14 of the region’s Music Services, which is unique in the UK.

Eboracum Baroque invites to you a virtual Coffee Concert

The musicians from Eboracum Baroque are using technology to solve the problems of performing to an audience in a period of self-isolation. 

On Friday 27 March 2020 at 1pm, they are offering a virtual concert using the meeting software Zoom. There will be solo music for recorder, violin, oboe, cello and trumpet by Bach and Telemann. 

The concert will also be recorded and available on the group's YouTube channel later, for those that can't get to it.

More details on Eboracum Baroque's website.
Eboracum Baroque on YouTube.

Singing in Secret: The Marian Consort in Byrd's mass for four voices and propers for All Saints

Singing in Secret - William Byrd Mass for Four Voices, motets; The Marian Consort; Delphian
Singing in Secret - William Byrd Mass for Four Voices, motets; The Marian Consort; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 March 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Byrd's four-part mass forms the centrepiece of this powerful new disc from the Marian Consort

For someone who was a Roman Catholic in England at a time when it was proscribed, William Byrd wrote a remarkable amount of Roman Catholic music, two volumes of motets, the two volumes of Gradualia with music for all the services of the Church year, and three masses. What is interesting about the motets is that many of them do not set liturgical texts but instead use Biblical texts which would have had resonance for Byrd's fellow Catholics.

The new disc (released 27 March 2020) from Rory McCleery and The Marian Consort on Delphian, Singing in Secret explores these Roman Catholic resonances in William Byrd's music. Around a performance of Byrd's Mass in Four Voices, McCleery has placed the motets Miserere mei, Gaudeamus omnes, Timete Dominum, Ave Maria, Laetentur Coeli, Justorum Anime, Deo Gratias, and Beate mundo corde, ending with the large scale Infelix ergo.

The Marian Consort recording session at Crichton Collegiate Church (photo Will Campbell-Gibson)
The Marian Consort recording session at Crichton Collegiate Church (photo Will Campbell-Gibson)
We have very little background to Byrd's masses, they were printed without their dedicatory title page which usually a great source of information about a work. Whilst we have occasional descriptions of recusant Catholic services in private houses where Byrd was present, we are not able to place his masses with a particular ensemble the way the music written for the Anglican church in England can often be. The music itself is somewhat tricky to place, and it has been argued that the Mass in Four Voices was intended to be transposed down with altos singing the top line, but perhaps the music's sheer flexibility was deliberate. The choirs at Catholic masses would not be made up of regular choristers but would be whoever was able to sing, and of course technically women were not supposed to sing in church though we know that they did so at recusant Roman Catholic services in England.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

At home with LMP

At home with LMP
The London Mozart Players (LMP) has launched an on-line initiative, At home with LMP, which will provide a range of on-line context in the wake of the closure of live performances. The range will include solo performances from musicians associated with the group. 

On Saturday, classical guitarist Craig Ogden launches the first of LMP's Saturday Sessions with a live-streamed recital including music by Scarlatti and Rodrigo. Also this week, the Marmen Quartet in Schubert, a conducting workshop from Hilaray Davan-Wetton and a family-friendly performance on Friday.
London Mozart Players and pianist Howard Shelley were due to perform the last concert of their 2019/20 Piano Explored lunchtime series at St John’s Smith Square on Wednesday 1 April. With the temporary closure of St John’s Smith Square, the concert will no longer take place, so instead LMP will be broadcasting an introduction from Howard Shelley – filmed from his own home – which will unpack Franz Xaver Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in E flat in his usual charming fashion, with excerpts performed to camera. The broadcast is planned to go live via LMP’s Facebook page at 1.05pm on Wednesday 1 April.

Full details from the London Mozart Players website

The Manchester Collective on-line: streaming, interviews, practice diaries & more

On Saturday, the Manchester Collective will be streaming its most recent show, Cries and Whispers, on Facebook. The show was filmed live at the White Hotel in Salford, and features music for string quartet by Jorg Widmann, Britten, Shostakovich and Gesualdo.

In the absence of performing live, the group is developing quite a lively on-line presence. Today (Tuesday), Elizabeth Alker (from BBC 6 Music/Radio 3) will be chatting to the group's chief executive Adam Szabo in Instagram Live, to discuss how artists are coping, how can we all continue to make music and what's the best way to discover new music online?

And on Twitter and Instagram Stories you can follow artistic director Rahki Singh's practice diary.

A particular place & time: Peter Sheppard Skaerved explores the 1685 Klagenfurt Manuscript with a contemporary violin by Antonio Stradivari

Solo works from The Klagenfurt Manuscript; Peter Sheppard Skaerved; Athene
Solo works from The Klagenfurt Manuscript; Peter Sheppard Skaerved; Athene
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Exploring a particular place and time, violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved pairs at 1685 Stradivarius with an anonymous manuscript of the period, written by a Benedictine nun

This disc from violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved on Athene, The Great Violins: Antonio Stradivari, 1685 - The Klagenfurt Manuscript, explores two areas of violin playing concurrently, he plays a 1685 violin by Antonio Stradivari and performs 96 movements from the Klagenfurt Manuscript, all music by an unknown composer from around 1685 for solo violin.

I have to confess that I had never heard of the Klagenfurt Manuscript until I came across this recording. The manuscript dates from the mid-1680s and was found in the Convent of St Georgen am Längsee in Carinthia, it is now in the collection of the Landesmuseum Kärnten, Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, Austria. The Convent dates from the 11th century but was re-built in the fashionable Baroque style in the mid-17th century, just before manuscript was written. But written by whom?

It is anonymous, as are most of the compositions by Benedictine nuns at the time, and we have to presume that it was written by a nun at the Convent, and the work seems to be a coherent single work by one composer. And, as Sheppard Skaerved explains in one of his articles in the CD booklet, the music is presented in a finely written and expressive hand by a single person whom, for various reasons including the types of error made, Sheppard Skaerved believes to be the composer herself.

One of the distinctive features of the movements is that many are written to be played scordatura, in alternative tunings of the strings. Thanks to his experiments playing the music, including to live audiences, Sheppard Skaerved has come to the conclusion that the reason for the alternative tunings was not just to make different types of musical figurations available, but to bring in different timbres and colours, because with an old instrument like the 1685 Stradivari, different tunings bring different pressures to the strings which affects the instrument's response and generates new ranges of colour and timbre.

The violin itself is quite a small one, commonly called a violino piccolo nowadays but really dating from a period before violins had become entirely standardised. It is now in the collection of historical musical instruments at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Vienna State Opera: on-line nightly

Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten - Camilla Nylund, Evelyn Herlitzius - Vienna State Opera
Richard Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten - Camilla Nylund, Evelyn Herlitzius - Vienna State Opera
The Vienna State Opera (which is closed until at least 15 April 2020) has responded to the crisis, like many other organisations, by extending its on-line content. The company's regular on-line offering at Staatsoperlive.com has been extended to include a nightly free broadcast from the archives, with the operatic selection based on what was due to be performed live that evening, so we don't have to miss out.

The operas are detailed on the company's website, so this week include L'elisir d'amore, La cenerentola, Tosca, Le nozze di Figaro and Götterdämmerung.

 Perhaps the most interesting so-far scheduled is the performance for 1 April 2020, Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten (performance of 10 June 2019), conductor: Christian Thielemann | director: Vincent Huguet, with Stephen Gould (Der Kaiser), Camilla Nylund (Die Kaiserin), Evelyn Herlitzius (Die Amme), Wolfgang Bankl (Geisterbote), Wolfgang Koch (Barak, der Färber), Nina Stemme (Färberin)

Monday 23 March 2020

Updated: Nightly Met Opera Streams, a free series of encore Live in HD presentations

Sonya Yoncheva - Verdi's La Traviata - Metropolitan Opera in 2017 (photo Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera)
Sonya Yoncheva - Verdi's La Traviata - Metropolitan Opera in 2017 (photo Marty Sohl | Metropolitan Opera)
In the wake of its recent closure due to concerns around the coronavirus, the Metropolitan Opera has launched free nightly streams of encore presentations from the award-winning Live in HD series of cinema transmissions on the company website for the duration of the closure. The presentations began last night with Bizet's Carmen with Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, originally broadcast in 2010.

The Nightly Met Opera Streams begin at 7.30pm local time (11.30pm UK time until the clocks change when it becomes 10.30pm) and remain on the Met website for 23 hours. The schedule for the forthcoming weeks is as follows:

This week is Wagner week, then next week begins with Poulenc's Carmelites.

Monday, March 23 – Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde
Conducted by Simon Rattle, starring Nina Stemme, Ekaterina Gubanova, Stuart Skelton, Evgeny Nikitin, and René Pape. Transmitted live on October 8, 2016.

Tuesday, March 24 – Wagner’s Das Rheingold
Conducted by James Levine, starring Wendy Bryn Harmer, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Gerhard Siegel, Dwayne Croft, Bryn Terfel, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König. Transmitted live on October 9, 2010.

Wednesday, March 25 – Wagner’s Die Walküre
Conducted by James Levine, starring Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel, and Hans-Peter König. Transmitted live on May 14, 2011.

Thursday, March 26 – Wagner’s Siegfried
Conducted by Fabio Luisi, starring Deborah Voigt, Hunter Morris, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, and Eric Owens. Transmitted live on November 5, 2011.

Friday, March 27 – Wagner’s Götterdämmerung
Conducted by Fabio Luisi, starring Deborah Voigt, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Iain Paterson, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König. Transmitted live on February 11, 2012.

Saturday, March 28 – Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Conducted by James Levine, starring Annette Dasch, Johan Botha, Paul Appleby, and Michael Volle. Transmitted live on December 13, 2014.

Sunday, March 29 – Wagner’s Tannhäuser
Conducted by James Levine, starring Eva-Marie Westbroek, Michelle DeYoung, Johan Botha, Peter Mattei, and Gunther Groissböck. Transmitted live on October 31, 2015.

Monday, March 30 – Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Isabel Leonard, Adrianne Pieczonka, and Karita Mattila. Transmitted live on May 11, 2019. 

Tuesday, March 31 – Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia
Conducted by Maurizio Benini, starring Joyce DiDonato, Juan Diego Flórez, and Peter Mattei. Transmitted live on March 24, 2007.

Wednesday, April 1 – John Adams’s Nixon in China
Conducted by John Adams, starring Janis Kelly and James Maddalena. Transmitted live on February 12, 2011.

Thursday, April 2 – Verdi’s Don Carlo   
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Marina Poplavskaya, Roberto Alagna, Simon Keenlyside, and Ferruccio Furlanetto. Transmitted live December 11, 2010.

Friday, April 3 – Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles  
Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, starring Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, and Mariusz Kwiecien. Transmitted live January 16, 2016.

Saturday, April 4 – Verdi’s Macbeth
Conducted by Fabio Luisi, starring Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Željko Lučić, and René Pape. Transmitted live October 11, 2014.

Sunday, April 5 – Bellini’s Norma
Conducted by Carlo Rizzi, starring Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce DiDonato, Joseph Calleja, and Matthew Rose. Transmitted live October 17, 2017.

Let the music play on: Bach against Corona

Benedict Kloeckner
Benedict Kloeckner
Every evening around 8pm Central European Time, the German cellist Benedict Kloeckner plays a movement from Bach's Cello Suites, and encourages listeners/viewers to support one of important initiatives supporting those in the current crisis.

An uplifting way to share the music. 

Available view Benedict's Facebook page

Live music streaming list

Bach Club TV is putting together a list of live-music streaming events on its website, and there is a link for you to add other events. Help create an on-line resource.

Islands and seasons: Tom Hicks in John Ireland and Tchaikovsky

John Ireland Sarnia: An Island Sequence, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky The Seasons; Tom Hicks; Chatelet Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Two substantial works by John Ireland and Tchaikovsky form the basis for this engaging recital from pianist Tom Hicks

This new disc from pianist Tom Hicks brings together two very different suites for piano, both major works by well-known composers yet neither work is as known as it ought to be, John Ireland's Sarnia: An Island Sequence, and Tchaikovsky's The Seasons.

John Ireland was a frequent visitor to the Channel Islands and was inspired by the landscape. He composed The Island Spell (from his 1913 set of piano pieces Decorations) when visiting Jersey in 1912. Then in 1940, shortly before his evacuation from the islands, which were occupied by the Germans during World War II, he started Sarnia: An Island Sequence. Composition continued in London, during The Blitz, and perhaps the evocation of his magical time in the islands was a counter to the realities of wartime bombing in London.

Sarnia consists of a trio of pieces 'Le Catioroc', 'In a May Morning' and 'Song of the Springtides' which lasts a little under 20 minutes.  It is a distinctive and colourful score, in which some commentators feel Ireland was thinking orchestrally (the pieces have been orchestrated by Martin Yates), but here we have the piano originals.

A final Elegy: Richard Jeffrey-Gray at the Rieger organ of Clifton Cathedral

Richard Jeffrey-Gray made a final recording on the Rieger organ of Clifton Cathedral, on 19 March 2020, before services ceased as the result of the current emergency. 

Rather aptly he chose George Thalben-Ball's Elegy which was apparently conceived as an improvisation to fill in time at the end of a BBC-recorded service during the World War II, and which Thalben-Ball dedicated to Walford Davis who preceded him as organist at the Temple Church in London.

The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet on-line

The view from the main stage Orchestra Pit at the Royal Opera House © ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke, 2014
The view from the main stage Orchestra Pit at the Royal Opera House © ROH/Sim Canetty-Clarke, 2014
Like many other arts organisations, the Royal Opera House is launching free on-line content from its archive of performances. This will be made available on demand and for free via the Royal Opera House’s Facebook and YouTube channels, with the following opera and ballet performances planned: 
  • Peter and the Wolf, The Royal Ballet, 2010 – 27 March 2020, 7pm GMT
  • Handel: Acis and Galatea, The Royal Opera, 2009 (Danielle de Niese, Charles Workman, Matthew Rose, Lauren Cuthbertson, Edward Watson, Steven MacRae, Eric Underwood, directed: Wayne McGregor, conductor: Christopher Hogwood) – 3 April 2020, 7pm BST
  • Mozart: Così fan tutte, The Royal Opera, 2010 (Charles Castronovo, Troy Cook, William Shimmell, Sally Matthews, Nino Surguladze, Helene Schneiderman, directed: Jonathan Miller & this performance revived by him, conductor: Julia Jones)– 10 April 2020, 7pm BST
  • The Metamorphosis, The Royal Ballet, 2013 – 17 April 2020, 7pm BST
The Royal Opera House is also rolling out a curated programme on Marquee TV, the arts streaming service, and it is possible to sign up for this with a 30-day free trial, and this will give you access not only to Royal Opera and Royal Ballet performances, but the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Bolshoi and many more.

More on-line content is planned by the Royal Opera House in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Orchestre National de Lille on-line, with 'Carmen' and Mahler's symphonies

Bizet: Carmen - Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch - July 2019 (PHOTO PASCAL BONNIERE)
Bizet: Carmen - Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch - July 2019 (PHOTO PASCAL BONNIERE)
    The Orchestre National de Lille, under its chief conductor Alexandre Bloch, recently complete a tour of the UK, its first visit for over 20 years [see my review of the orchestra's Cadogan Hall concert]. With live performances currently not possible, the orchestra has released a number of archive recordings on YouTube. Notably, Alexandre Bloch's complete cycle of Mahler symphonies, recorded during the orchestra's 2019/2020 season. But my eye was caught Bizet's Carmen which was originally live-streamed in 2019 from the Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle in Lille.

    This very effective concert staging features projected images and animations created by Grégoire Pont, and makes good use of the auditorium. Alexandre Bloch leads a highly dramatic and very vivid account of the score, but one which does not neglect the work's subtleties too, and it is great to see an opera performance with the orchestra on full view, and the orchestra is in fine form.

    The cast members are all, I think, Francophone which makes a big difference in this opera and all the soloists are off the book so that performances are engagingly dramatic. Aude Extrémo is a rich-voiced Carmen, moving between the sexy and the dramatic, this is definitely an account of the role I would love to see in the theatre. And this seems to have been her role debut! Canadian tenor Antoine Bélanger made a very intense and naively earnest Don José, with Bélanger freely using a lovely mezzo voce.  Gabrielle Philiponet was a very self-possessed Micaëla, rising to the challenge of Act Three, whilst and Florian Sempey swaggered wonderfully as Escamillo.

    The smaller roles were all strongly sung, making this a very rewarding performance, with Pauline Texier as Frasquita, Adélaïde Rouyer as Mercédès (and I particularly loved the contrast between them and Aude Extremo in the Act Three trio), Jérôme Boutiller as Le Dancaïre, Antoine Chenuet as Le Remendado, Bertrand Duby as Zuniga and Philippe-Nicolas Martin as Moralès. The Opera de Lille chorus throw themselves into the work with a will, and there is an impressive children's chorus from the maîtrisien du Conservatoire de Wasquehal.

    The opera is given, correctly, in the version with spoken dialogue but this is replaced by a narration by Alex Vizorek. There do not seem to be surtitles, thank fully, as Vizorek's self-consciously funny narrations to the audience are thus easily screened out.

Friday 20 March 2020

A seductive mix-tape: pianist Alessandro Viale's Minimal Works

Minimal Works; Alessandro Viale; KHA
Minimal Works; Alessandro Viale; KHA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Italian pianist Alessandro Viale's fascinatingly eclectic mix of composers, all drawn together under the minimal banner, and creating a seductive mix-tape

The Italian pianist Alessandro Viale has produced a new disc, Minimal Works on KHA which draws together music by Philip Glass, Alessandra Celletti, Max Richter, David Lang, Peter Maxwell Davies, Yann Tiersen, Wim Mertens, Olafur Arnalds, John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti, Nils Frahm, Richard David James (Aphex Twin), Lera Auerbach, George Pelecis, Matteo Sommacal, and Arvo Part, moving between music for solo piano, music for piano duet with Assunta Cavallari and music for violin and piano with Rebecca Raimondi.

On of the fascinating things about the disc is that the works are all relatively short with Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel being by far the longest on disc, giving us a very different idea of minimalism to such iconic works as Terry Riley's In C, recordings of which last anything from 20 to 80 minutes. Here is minimalism write small, and curated into a sequence which forms a seductive mix -tape-like sequence. The music moves between the exploration of textures in process music to using minimal-like sequences as the backdrop to more lyrical material. And along the way, we can savour the pun in the disc's title, Minimal Works.

Jonathan Biss's Beethoven - on-line and at home

Jonathan Biss - Beethoven: The COmplete Sonatas
Pianist Jonathan Biss has completed his traversal of the Beethoven piano sonatas and his recordings, Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas is released on Orchid Classics today. 

Unfortunately, live celebrations have been curtailed by the current emergency. Instead, Biss will be live-streaming a recital on Thursday 26 March 2020 from the 92nd Street Y, New York at 7.30pm local time (full details from the venue's website). Biss will be performing Beethoven's final three piano sonatas.

If you want to learn more about the sonatas, then Biss has produced a complete set of 32 lectures, one on each of the sonatas. There are available on-line, via Coursera, and Biss also produced a book, Beethoven's Shadow which in 2011 became the first Amazon Kindle Single to be written by a classical musician.

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